Report review: Powerful Communities, Strong Economies

| Linda Hutchinson

We didn’t make it to Locality’s conference this year but we kept up with the launch of their Powerful Communities, Strong Economies report. I’ve finally found time to read through and can highly recommend.

Published by: Locality and Friends Provident Foundation with NEF Consulting

Date: November 2017

The report is the culmination of action research in six areas (Bradford, Bristol, Calderdale, Dorset, Hackney and Shropshire). Local authorities teamed up with local community organisations to co-produce and test tools and guidance for Keep it Local. Together they investigated the role community organisations play in the local economy and how this can be harnessed through local commissioning.

The key messages

The main report and the Executive Summary begin with the key messages. These are:

  • cuts are both enabling and preventing change
  • there is opportunity for community organisations – but also challenge
  • local systems remain fragmented
  • risk aversion and fear of ‘letting go’ are stubborn cultural barriers
  • social value hasn’t gone far enough – but it can go further.

These are not new nor surprising. I was initially underwhelmed as the last thing we need is another list of what isn’t working. Inevitable, local authorities come in for much criticism, from risk averse procurement to wanting to hold their status in communities and not cede power. However, over the course of the full report, enough good practice came through to make one end up with hope.

The report promotes a framework for Economic Resilience with seven characteristics and recommends four areas of action for translating commissioning practice (p 5 of executive summary, p 43 of main report). These actions are mainly for local authorities with the need for top-level leadership at very senior level committed to Keep it Local and a plea to be more ambitious about social value. Then there are more joining up of systems both within local authorities and with the wider community and a need to recognise that community organisations can step up.

This last one resonates with me. I often hear people express scepticism that their local community has no organisations which can manage the complexity and issues that they do on a daily basis. I would say that it is not so much about community organisations stepping up as others giving them the space and trust to do so.

What we liked

The other highlights in the report for me were:

  • Alliance contracting mentioned and a reference to my own materials in the section on Commissioning and Procurement: new opportunities to Keep it Local (p 44 in main report) – a shameless plug I know!
  • The examples in the case studies dotted throughout both documents – maybe some to feature on Ideas Hub in the future
  • The inclusion of measurement and indicators as well as interviews and case studies. This ensures the impact is defined and helps make the business case. (pp 65-69)
  • Measuring the Enabled Economic Contribution section where NEF Consulting’s analysis showed that the ten Keep it Local community anchor organisations together were found to have enabled approximately 1,400 jobs and approximately £120m of gross value added to the local economy. (pp 73-75)

In summary, this is an excellent report with plenty of content and food for thought from many perspectives. It is bookmarked in my filing system and will be much used.

Photo by Slava Bowman

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